Heatwave expected to cause more than 1,000 deaths

Last week alone more than 500 excess deaths were registered

Excess deaths – the latest topic to fill column inches – are back on the news panorama today, as temperatures rise yet again in Portugal.

In the last week, between last Monday and Sunday, 523 more people died than expected (given totals for the same period in previous years).

The observation came from DGS (health authority) data on ‘all cause mortality’.

Say reports, the week before saw 238 excess deaths.

Meteorologist Pedro M. Sousa, cited by Público, put these excess deaths down to the heatwave – stressing that the final impact of high temperatures this month is unlikely to see less than 1,000 more deaths (than expected) for this time of year.

Pedro M Sousa works at IPMA (the institute of sea and atmosphere). He told Público that between July 1-16 roughly 5,600 deaths were registered – when the ‘norm’ would have been in the region of 4,000. He then deducted 287 deaths from Covid-19 during this period, to come to a total of excess deaths of 1,200.

“In spite of admitting that the heat cannot be entirely responsible, he believes that a large part of this excess mortality could be related to the high temperatures of recent days”, says SIC television news.

To be fair, any interview with a weather specialist might be expected to see the weather foremost in their minds: Pedro M. Sousa is not a medical specialist; he is a meteorologist.

But SIC goes on to say that DGS health director Graça Freitas “has already alerted that the extreme air temperatures of recent days could provoke dehydration and decompensation of chronic diseases. And for this, special attention is needed for people with chronic diseases, young children and the elderly”.

This was the third heatwave registered in Portugal this year, SIC continues – stressing that everything points to the next few years seeing more and more of these extreme phenomena.

“According to the World Health Organisation, heatwaves have a direct relationship with the increase in the number of deaths. The meteorological phenomenon is among the most dangerous natural disasters. Between 1998 and 2017, around 165,000 died due to heatwaves”.

It is absolutely wrong to think heat is more tolerable than other climatic extremes, SIC insists. “The human body has a limit for tolerating high temperatures, potentially suffering consequences like stress, heart failure and renal damage through dehydration”.

Elsewhere, however, there are investigative sources who explain that excess deaths in Portugal have been going through the roof all year – long before the summer heatwaves.

Investigative online Página Um is relentless in its pursuit of this subject, only three days ago having published another article, under the headline: “Portugal headed for 9th consecutive month with more than 10,000 deaths”.

In a text written the day before, journalist Pedro Almeida Vieira considers “the heatwave will complicate this tragedy, but it cannot be used as a scapegoat”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com